This column was originally published in National Review.
I'll never forget the first time I learned that I couldn't put faith in Christians. I was in middle school, and our church had hired a new "pulpit minister" (that's what my church called pastors) — a man widely known for his ability to deliver a sermon. During one of his first weeks at our church, he proudly declared that when he preached, he didn't want to hit "bunt singles." He wanted to "belt home runs." But he didn't just boast. He delivered. Week after week his messages moved, taught, and inspired. The church started growing, and even bored young teens (like me) looked forward to Sunday.
Then, one day he was gone. He ran off with another man's wife, and we never heard from him again. I was crushed. I was angry. I couldn't comprehend how a man could say one thing with such conviction yet live another way entirely — even to the point of forsaking his wife, his kids, and his church. When I was at my angriest, my dad pulled me aside and said, "David, our faith is in Christ, not any man."
If the past 30 years of very public Christian scandals should teach us anything, it's that no one should put their trust in famous Christians. They often can't even get the basics right, much less serve as shining examples of faith lived the right way. In the case of the Duggar family, they hid sexual abuse from everyone but those they most trusted, delayed notifying the authorities for months (and then afterward telling only a close family friend), escaped prosecution only through the expiration of the statute of limitations, and then had the audacity — knowing full well that these events had occurred — to put themselves out to the public as a role-model family. The abuser himself decided to become a leader in the Christian pro-family movement, as the executive director of the Family Research Council.
This is outrage piled upon outrage. Imagine the pain of the victims — denied justice — who watch their abuser not only escape any legal consequence but also rapidly ascend a very specific ladder of power, in a movement designed to advance the very values he so grotesquely profaned. The Duggars report that the victims have forgiven their abuser, but even if this is true, forgiveness does not heal all hurts, nor does it relieve the state or the community from the obligation to deal justly with sexual abuse. I've known all too many abuse victims, and there are few things more painful to those I know than the knowledge that there is no justice.
This pain is then likely compounded by watching some Christians commit the terrible error of either minimizing Josh Duggar's crimes or pouring out sympathy for him and not for the victims. Yes, God forgives. Yes, he has to live with an awful burden, knowing he's done terrible things that he can't take back, but he doesn't merit the "cheap grace" of modern celebrity culture, where public repentance often means public applause for "humility" and then the resumption — after a decent interval, of course — of their celebrity career.
There are Christians who've responded to horrific events and dreadful sins in very different ways, but you've likely never heard of them. They don't sign reality-TV deals. They don't try to run social-conservative organizations. They don't run for political office. Instead, they approach the Throne of Grace with fear and trembling, grateful beyond words for eternal hope and the opportunity to do something — anything — to make amends. If Jim Bob Duggar had responded to efforts to publicize his family differently, by humbly telling the networks and the newspapers that they should turn their attention elsewhere while he worked to repair a broken family and fulfill the sacred duty to "seek justice" for the victims of sexual crimes — then we likely would have never known about "Nineteen Kids and Counting." But, truly, that's no loss. After all, no family — not mine, not yours, and not any family in the public eye — can advance the cause of Christ better than Christ Himself.